Teach Like Finland, Part 1

While authoring my forthcoming book, I have read many professional books. This is the first in a series of professional book reviews–possible titles for your summer reading. The reviews are in no particular order.

Since 2001, many educators in the U. S., including yours truly, and around the world have wondered why Finnish students continually rank as top scorers on the international PISA exam. I recently read Teach Like Finland: 33 Simple Strategies for Joyful Classrooms. This is some of what I learned.

Before I even opened the book, I reflected on the use of the word “joyful” in the subtitle. In my work as a school librarian which included thirteen years at all three instructional levels between 1992 – 2009, I cotaught with classroom teachers in their classrooms as well as in the library, computer labs, and out in the field. I had the pleasure of working in many “joyful” classrooms, libraries, and even one very joyful school!

I agree with Teach Like Finland author Timothy Walker that joy is one of the too-oft missing ingredients in schooling today. Walker organizes his book into the four elements of happiness — belonging, autonomy, master, and mind-set — identified by Rag Raghunathan author of If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy? To these Walker adds “well-being.”

There were many other aspects of the Finnish education culture that “spoke to me.” Children start formal schooling at age seven. Elementary schools, in particularly, strive for a holistic, child-focused curriculum that addresses all subjects evenly. All subjects including art and music as well as what U. S. schools consider “core” subjects get equal time. Finnish schools apply the research that has shown art contributes to innovative thinking and music knowledge can help learners grasp mathematical patterns. The holistic model gives children opportunities to cultivate multiple aspects of their personalities and talents.

The average time that Finnish educators spend in actual instruction is also shorter than U. S. teachers per week (18 hours versus 26.5 hours). Finnish students and teachers have 15-minute breaks after every 45-minutes of instructional time. Collaborating with colleagues is one way that educators use that “free” time every day. (See below.)

Walker identified six strategies Finnish educators use to approach their work: seek flow, have a thicker skin, collaborate over coffee, welcome the experts, vacate on vacation, and don’t forget the joy. All of these are well worth considering.

As a writer and educator, I know and strive for that feeling of flow when my mind and body are totally focused and I do my best work. Walker writes: “Being teachers who seek flow, not superiority, is something that’s not just good for us; it’s also good for our students. Our students are watching us, and if they see that we’re seeking to do our best work, free of comparing ourselves to others, I’m confident that this kind of example will foster a noncompetitive culture in our classrooms… This positive change we want to see—as is so often the case in teaching—starts with us” (Walker 173).

Having a “thicker skin” that allows us to give, receive, and respond to constructive criticism is another important strategy. Principal leader and author of The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity George Couros just last week posted “It’s Okay to Be the ‘Boss’” to his blog. The thicker skin strategy totally aligns with Couros’s idea about providing adults with feedback.

Couros writes: “As long as people know that you are both on the same page (that you want them to be successful), they will accept the feedback. For some, it is harder than others, but when they know it is because you want them to be better, it is a much easier pill to swallow.”

Walker goes on to write about how he uses journaling to work through anxieties and challenges in teaching. He also writes about how noting “gratitudes” can boost happiness and giving thanks can strengthen relationships.

Of course, the aspect of daily life in Finnish schools that jumped off the page at me was educator collaboration. Walker interviewed several Finnish teachers and asked: “What brings you joy as a teacher, and what brings your students joy?”

One of the most popular answers was collaboration! He noted that nearly 50% of the lessons he taught during his time in Finland were cotaught.

“Teachers in my school were not just collaborating in the traditional sense, by planning and teaching lessons together—they were truly laboring together, sharing the burdens of teaching with each other. They were helping each other track down the resources they’d need for an upcoming lesson. They were discussing better ways to support needy students. They were analyzing curriculum together. They were talking about how to improve recess for the kids. They were grading tests together. They were offering tech support to each other. To my surprise, this work often happened in between sips of coffee, during those fifteen-minute breaks throughout the day” (Walker 178-179).

His comment made me think about what I mean when I write about collaborating in the “traditional sense.” I believe coteaching involves all of the aspects that Walker describes, but maybe others, who have not experienced classroom-library coteaching between equal partners, do not perceive the same depth of partnership that I have experienced.

In the course of coplanning and coteaching, classroom teachers and school librarians are analyzing curriculum together. They are sharing resources and providing technology support to one another. They are strategizing how to differentiate to meet the needs of all students. And in the most effective partnerships, they are assessing students’ work together and using assessment to adjust their instruction.

Walker writes: “More than anything, I think collaboration is all about mind-set. If you truly believe that you are a better teacher when you are working in concert with others, then I think you will naturally find small, simple ways of collaborating… Their work together seemed like a by-product of their teaching mind-set” (181).

Bravo! And yes! To a mind-set that believes collaboration is the key to better teaching.

I will reflect on the other three strategies next week: welcome the experts, vacate on vacation, and don’t forget the joy.

Works Cited

Couros, George. “It’s Okay to Be the ‘Boss.’” The Principal of Change blog. 18 May 2017, http://georgecouros.ca/blog/archives/7360 Accessed 20 May 2017.

Raghunathan, Rag. If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy? New York: Penguin, 2016.

Walker, Timothy D. Teach Like Finland: 33 Simple Strategies for Joyful Classrooms. New York: W. W. Norton, 2016.

Fake “News” in a “Post-truth” World

fake_news
In the wake of a contentious U.S. presidential election cycle, researchers and educators are shining a spotlight on critical “information literacy” skills. Determining authority, accuracy, and bias have long been essential aspects of analyzing content and sources of information. Today, this is no easy task for students (and adults as well) when authors of “information” do their best to deceive readers or hide their identity behind domains, such as .org, factual-seeming but phony statistical data, and authoritative-sounding language based on “pants of fire” lies.

In her 2014 book, It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens, researcher danah boyd wrote, “becoming literate in a networked age requires hard work, regardless of age” (177). While the amount of fake “news” has increased exponentially, the problem of determining authority and validity in information sources has been a critical skill since the early days of the Internet.

How long have school librarians been challenging students to determine the bias in Stormfront’s Martin Luther King Jr. Web site (a site often used by David Duke) began using it in 2002 when I moved from an elementary to a high school position, and I am certain others were using it before me.  (See the 7.3 Category Matrix from Coteaching Reading Comprehension Strategies in Secondary School Libraries: Maximizing Your Impact Challenging “Determining Main Ideas” Lesson Plan.)

Researchers at Stanford University recently conducted and released the results of a 2015-2016 study, “Evaluating Information: The Cornerstone of Civic Online Reasoning.”  The study showed what school and academic librarians have known through their own observations and action research related to middle, high school, and college-level students’ information literacy proficiency: “Young people’s ability to reason about the information on the Internet can be summed up in one word: bleak” (4).

Last week on LM_NET, school librarian Andrew van Zyl of St. Alban’s College, Pretoria, South Africa, raised the responsibilities of school librarians in a “post-truth” world when he posted information about Oxford Dictionaries’ announcement that “post-truth” reflects the “passing year in language.” It defines “post-truth” as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

Some who entered the conversation wondered if librarians should be engaged in “politics.” For me the answer is clear. Literacy is “political” because it empowers people. From my perspective, school librarians are required to teach youth to determine the authority and accuracy of information and we are charged with coteaching with classroom teachers to ensure that students are information literate.

Taken together, “fake news” in a “post-truth” world create an even greater need for the information literacy expertise of school librarians. Information is supposed to be factual, whether or not it is considered “news.” (Even in the halcyon days when people read printed newspapers, reporters and editors frequently rushed to “get ahead of the story” and published “errors” that later had to be corrected.) When school librarians bring their expertise to the collaboration table, they can coteach with classroom teachers to help students develop critical literacy skills that are even more essential in the online information environment.

I think this recent post on FactCheck.org “How to Spot Fake News” shows what librarians have long called “information literacy” is finally getting traction as a set of must-have skills for 21st-century students and adults as well:  (Information literacy and reading comprehension skills in parentheses)

• Consider the source. (Authority)
• Read beyond the headline. (Authority)
• Check the author. (Authority)
• What’s the support? (Accuracy and Reliability)
• Check the date. (Relevance and Reliability)
• Is this some kind of joke? (New in the post-truth world!)
• Check your biases. (Questioning)
• Consult the experts. (Questioning)

Like all educators, school librarians must continually self-assess and develop our skills. But we have a strong information literacy foundation on which to build and the desire and responsibility to share our expertise with students, colleagues, and community. Fake “news” and a “post-truth” world call all school librarians to step up  and lead.

Works Cited

boyd, dana. It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2014.

Robertson, Lori, and Eugene Kiely. “How to Spot Fake News,” FactCheck.org. November 18, 2016, http://www.factcheck.org/2016/11/how-to-spot-fake-news/

Stanford History Education Group. “Evaluating Information: The Cornerstone of Civic Online Reasoning: Executive Summary,” Stanford University. 22 Nov. 2016, https://sheg.stanford.edu/upload/V3LessonPlans/Executive%20Summary%2011.21.16.pdf

Image Credit: Newspaper Clipping created at Fodey.com

Additional Recommended Reading:
Stevenson, Sara. “Information Literacy Lessons Crucial in a Post-Truth World,” Knowledge Quest Blog, 18 Nov. 2016,
http://knowledgequest.aasl.org/information-literacy-lessons-crucial-post-truth-world/

Valenza, Joyce. “Truth, Truthiness, Triangulation, and the Librarian Way: A News Literacy Toolkit for a Post-truth World,” Neverending Search Blog, 26 Nov. 2016, http://blogs.slj.com/neverendingsearch/2016/11/26/truth-truthiness-triangulation-and-the-librarian-way-a-news-literacy-toolkit-for-a-post-truth-world/

Classroom-Library Collaboration for STEM Learning

bulls_eyeOne way that school librarians are responding to STEM/STEAM/STREAM is to house makerspaces in the physical space of the library. Involving students in hands-on opportunities to practice the creativity and critical thinking that can lead to innovation is a timely goal. In fact, and however, school librarians who have been effectively integrating technology tools into teaching and learning have been providing students many of these opportunities for decades.

The difference with today’s makerspace movement seems to be the emphasis on the types of tools students use in their making plus a greater emphasis on experimentation/trial and error rather than on creating final products to demonstrate learning. Some makerspaces operate in isolation from the classroom curriculum and could be described as “free play” centers that are neither constrained nor bounded by curriculum. These spaces may be facilitated by the school librarian working in isolation. Other makerspaces are integrated into the published curriculum and may be facilitated by a team of educators that includes the school librarian.

In Texas, Robin Stout, district-level Media Services and Emerging Technologies Supervisor (@BeanStout), Jody Rentfro, Emerging Technologies Specialist (@J_O_D_Y_R)  and Leah Mann, Library Media Services Instructional Specialist (@LMannTxLib), are spear-heading an initiative in Lewisville Independent School District (#LISDlib). LISD school librarians are piloting a Mobile Transformation Lab that moves beyond traditional “making” to address STEM/STEAM through collaborative lessons based on content area standards and district curriculum.

The team partners with campus librarians, classroom teachers and members of the curriculum department in collaborative planning meetings. The group examines the essential questions for the curriculum topic and decides which technologies from the Mobile Transformation Lab will best support the learning. Jody and Leah bring the agreed-upon resources to campus and co-teach lessons with campus staff for an entire day. They also participate in planning extension or follow-up lessons with the campus group.

You can see this process in action here:
http://goo.gl/znnvyn
http://goo.gl/wtjf8L

The Library Media Services and Emerging Technologies department offers an ever-growing repository of lessons from this project and tools to support librarians as they implement STEAMlabs with their students: http://hs.moodle.lisd.net/course/view.php?id=1010

This initiative has the potential to position school librarians as co-leaders in STEM/STEAM/STREAM learning. With an emphasis on collaborative classroom-library lesson plans, school librarians can achieve the hands-on creativity and critical thinking goals of makerspaces while school library programs remain at the center of their schools’ academic programs.

This is a makerspace strategy that is a win for students, classroom teachers, and school librarians, too.

Copyright-free Image by pippalou accessed from the Morguefile <http://bit.ly/1ccKDO1>.

Coplanning for Student Success

wordle_lesson_planningWhen classroom teachers and school librarians coplan standards-based lessons and units of instruction, they can experience the two-heads are better than one phenomenon. Each educator brings a unique perspective as well as knowledge, skills, talents, and teaching style to the collaboration table.

Both classroom teachers and school librarians must know the standards. Whether the Common Core or other state standards. Classroom teachers have more familiarity with the background knowledge and skill development of the students in their classrooms. School librarians bring their knowledge of the resources of the library and beyond as well as strategies for integrating technology tools into lessons. Together, these equal educators have the potential to develop more creative, more engaging, and most of all, more effective instruction for students.

Many school librarians and classroom teachers find it helpful to use collaborative planning forms to record their ideas as they brainstorm and plan. Often the school librarian takes responsibility for making notes and/or completing the planning form and using it to rough out a lesson or unit plan, which both partners fine-tune. These are some sample elementary level (Chapter 1) and secondary level planning forms that can be downloaded from the Web.

In the 2014-2015 school year, Kelly Hoppe school librarian at Palo Duro High School in Amarillo, Texas, coplanned with 9th-grade pre-AP English language arts teacher Jessica Wilcox for a year-long collaboration. Jessica felt that even though her students were on the pre-AP track, they weren’t skilled library users. She wanted to do something that would immerse students in library skills and critical reading skills using YA and classic literature. Together, Jessica and her school librarian Kelly collaborated to create a year-long program to meet these students’ needs.

Jessica and Kelly began by helping student learn how to use the library more effectively. Along the way, they discovered that students needed more support with how to make sense of difficult texts that were above their proficient reading level. These coteachers will have an article in the August issue of Voices of Youth Advocates (VOYA) that describes their collaborative process and the results of their coteaching.

Works Cited

Wilcox, Jessica. “Teacher Librarian Collaboration.” YouTube.com. 2015. Web. 29 May 2015. <https://youtu.be/d9WHb8i8v5I>.

Word cloud created at Wordle.net

Advocating for Instructional Partnerships

Teaching_too_difficultI am a passionate advocate for school librarians’ instructional partner role. Research and my own experience suggest that classroom-library collaboration is a best practice and results in improved student learning outcomes.

While building relationships with classroom teachers, it is critical for school librarians to build relationships with influencers and decision-makers. Principals and school superintendents who understand the impact of coteaching on student learning can help create the ideal environment for this practice: a state-certified professional school librarian, a flexibly scheduled libraries with sufficient support staff and a budget that affords engaging resources and technology tools.

Principals and superintendents can advocate for vibrant school library programs. School librarians can collect and share stories designed to meet these decision-makers’ priorities as well as touch their emotions. There is a growing consensus about the importance of educators’ expertise to impact student learning. School librarians can collect advocacy stories from classroom teachers who can tell the stories of improvements in both their teaching and students’ learning as the result of classroom-library collaboration for instruction. Here are some examples.

I appreciated the three things we were told to consider when “Communicating the Story”: What libraries and librarians really do that’s unique and valuable; why it matters in terms of their values and their priorities; and why it is urgent. Classroom-library coteaching answers all three of these questions for the administrators we seek to influence.

School librarians are in a unique position. Similar to principals, we have a global view of the learning community. We know the entire curriculum; we work with all students and teachers in all disciplines. We know the resources that can help our teachers and students succeed. This global perspective is valuable to the learning community in determining what students must know and be able to do. We can help teachers plan across grade levels and content areas because we see the big picture.

Principals and superintendents are focused on teacher improvement. When two educators—a classroom teacher and a school librarian—coplan, coteach, and coassess a lesson or unit of instruction, they learn from one another. This kind of job-embedded professional development can be part of the daily work of educators; it doesn’t cost anything (except as noted above in terms of scheduling, staffing, and resources). Coteaching happens in real time with real students. The results are observable by these decision-makers; the results in terms of student learning can be tangible. A culture of collaboration can transform a school or district.

The urgency of improving teachers’ teaching and students’ learning will be clear to these administrators who are held accountable for student achievement by parents, school boards, and state- and federal-level education agencies. We cannot let students fall behind in reading comprehension, applying information-seeking processes, or using technology tools. These are basic and recognized 21st-century skills that can help our students be competitive in a global society and economy. Teachers must be up to date with strategies to meet these objectives.

Finally, I want to borrow a slogan from a national school library advocacy campaign from the Dewitt Wallace-Reader’s Digest Library Power Project from 1990s. I believe it frames the message school librarians want/need to share in order to influence today’s decision-makers. “Teaching is too difficult to do alone. Collaborate with your school librarian.” This was true at the dawn of the Information Age and it is even truer now. Framing our message in terms of what teachers need is a way to show principals and superintendents that they have a partner in the school librarian—a partner who can help them meet their goal of an effective teaching force in our schools.

Image: Remix of Library Power Slogan. Dewitt Wallace-Reader’s Digest Library Power Project

Elevator Speech: Reflections on What I Teach

ElevatorThis month the BACC co-bloggers will reflect on the “what” and the “why” of our roles as educators of future school librarians.

Any educator at any level can benefit from reflecting on what and why she or he teaches. Last Saturday, I participated in the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) Leadership Meeting at the American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter Meeting in Chicago. One of the activities we engaged in during the meeting was writing elevator speeches. Over the years, I have written many of these speeches from the perspective of a practicing school librarian…

But before last weekend and although I have been teaching at the university level for two decades (!), I had not written an elevator speech from the perspective of a school librarian educator. Although it is a work-in-progress, I share it here as a starting point for a discussion of the purpose of library science graduate education.

I, Judi Moreillon, prepare future school librarians to be 21st-century literacy experts and leaders who coteach with classroom teachers to help children and youth from all backgrounds and with various abilities to become critical, creative thinkers and lifelong learners who contribute to and thrive in a global society.

In my role as a school librarian educator, I am grateful for the opportunity to learn alongside enthusiastic graduate students. These educators have chosen to expand their classroom teacher toolkits to add the knowledge and skills of school librarians to their repertoires—including the information-seeking process, reading comprehension strategies, and digital tools for motivating, learning, and creating new knowledge. School librarian candidates learn to design instruction and teach these skills and strategies as coteachers along with classroom teachers and specialists.

Over the course of their graduate program, these librarian candidates learn to embrace a global view of the school learning community and have the opportunity to consider their potential to serve as leaders in their schools. Using professional standards and guidelines I aspire to enculturate school librarians into a profession or community of practice (Wenger 1998). To that end, I also model professional practice to show candidates how to serve.

Works Cited

d3designs. “pb210160.jpg.” Digital Image. Morguefile. Web. 01 Feb. 2015. <http://mrg.bz/iqhhRc>.

Wenger, Etienne. Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Print.

The “L” Team

super-hero-red-cape-hi 

Are you a member?  Do you have your flashing cape and shiny literacy toolbox ready to come to the aid of your local classroom teachers and learners? What’s in your toolbox to help teachers personalize literacy for all their learners?

Resources for literacy should not be an either/or choice for investing in schoolwide literacy programs. In some schools, classroom collections are funded at the expense of school library collections. In some schools there is zero, or limited budget for both, so classroom teachers and teacher librarians are scrambling to find donations or write grants to provide needed materials for students. Some school rely on textbook programs.  Some schools have robust resources for classrooms and libraries. What’s it like at your school? In order to address the individual challenges of each school, literacy leadership teams should represent a cross section of educators in a school. The teacher librarian needs to be at the table and on the team.

Classroom collections are an important resource for literacy instruction. School library collections provide a breadth of materials in multiple formats that extend and support reader choice for information and enjoyment in and beyond  the classroom.  A selection of current and relevant resources chosen by a knowledgeable teacher librarian, benefits all the members of the school community, and provides a great return on investment.  Both of these resource collections are important components of a dynamic and nimble literacy program.  Teachers and teacher librarians are natural partners for the literacy team.

Working with classroom teachers in the classroom as co-teachers, or in the library space, teacher librarians have opportunities to guide emerging, developing, or passionate readers and writers to discover literacy as a joy, not a chore in life. What do you bring to the literacy table?

Here a few ideas for the “L” team toolbox-either for face to face collaboration or on your virtual website or blog:

  • A chart that compares reading-grade level systems: Lexile Levels, DRA, Fountas & Pinnell, Ready Recovery, etc. (Talk the talk, walk the walk)

  • In person or with a screencast, demonstrate the power of the digital library catalog. Reveal the hidden secrets to searching for and discovering reviews, awards, formats, or reading levels in the display record. (Train the trainer)

  • Updates for new books, materials, or author websites on your blog/website. Tweet it out to teachers at your local school #. (Be social)

  • Book talks, book trailers, book discussions with teachers. Set up a Goodreads share site. Select a new outstanding book for a small group or whole school discussion.  Feature a CH/YA author, or a title to inspire discussion, such as The Book Whisperer (Miller, 2009), or Reading in the Wild (Miller and Kelley, 2013.)

  • Book clubs for students, and invite teachers, parents, or community members to take part. Choose themes or genres to begin, and then let others do the choosing and leading.

  • Extend literacy lessons for the classroom into the library. For those on a fixed schedule, coordinate with the classroom teacher around themes, genres, or skills.  Or flip it-introduce them in the library classroom and send selections back to the classroom.

  • Help teachers set up routines to supplement their classroom collections with library resources. Let students take responsibility to curate materials that they think the class would enjoy.  (Small book trucks with wheels work well for rotating physical collections.)

  • Skype/Hangout with authors or other experts in literacy.  (Share ideas, and generate new ones.)

  • Listen to the concerns and challenges of classroom teachers, and be ready to problem solve solutions to help them transform literacy learning in the classroom and the whole school.

 

These are just a few of the ideas that I have tried with success, and I’m sure you have many more.  So grab your cape and toolbox and join the team!


References:

Miller, Donalyn. The Book Whisperer.  San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2009. print.

Miller, Donalyn and Susan Kelley.  Reading in the Wild. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2013.

Image:

http://www.clker.com/cliparts/k/2/V/1/s/j/super-hero-red-cape-hi.png

School Library Advisory Committees: The Key = 4 Cs

key2What are the keys to an effective school library advisory committee? I propose these: Communication-Connection-Commitment-Collaboration.

Communication:
If classroom teachers have not had positive input into school library collection decision-making, then they may refer to the library collection as the property of the librarian. When a classroom teacher tells students to be careful with “Ms. Jones’s books” (the librarian’s books), the wise school librarian will make it clear that the library collection belongs to all of the library stakeholders: students, teachers, administrators, and families.

Once collective ownership is established, the librarian can invite classroom teacher colleagues to join the school library advisory committee in order to participate in decision-making regarding library purchases and initiatives, such as grant writing and literacy events.

Connection:
The wise school librarian will ensure that the resources of the library are aligned with the curricular needs of classroom teachers and students. While the Common Core State Standards may make this a library goal in many states, the school library has always been charged with providing resources and technology tools to support teaching and learning the required curriculum.

Commitment:
In most schools, the school library advisory committee will meet during before or after school hours. It will be important for the school librarian to honor the extra commitment it will take for classroom teachers to participate in developing the library collection as a shared resource for the school community. Likewise, the school librarian’s commitment to shared decision-making must be genuine and clear to all advisory committee members.

Collaboration:
One of the most outstanding benefits of a library advisory committee is increased collaborative teaching between classroom teachers and school librarians. When advisory committee members have shared responsibility for selecting resources, they will have a shared commitment to using those resources for standards-based instruction. While classroom-library collaboration ensures that valuable resources will be integrated into instruction, it can also improve educators’ teaching and students’ learning.

School library advisory committees that achieve the four keys, communication-connection-commitment-collaboration = win-win-win-win for all library stakeholders.

Word cloud created at Tagxedo.com

 

Inquiry Summit II

Inquiry_SummitAlong with school librarian leaders Liz Deskins, Violet Harada, La Dawna Harrington, Paige Jaegar, Mary Keeling, Annette Lamb, Rebecca Morris, Olga Nesi, Rachel Wadham, and Joyce Valenza, I had the privilege of participating in the second annual Inquiry Summit sponsored by ABC-CLIO/Libraries Unlimited. Sharon Coatney, senior acquisitions editor, facilitated the meeting, and her colleagues Marlene Woo-Lun, Kathryn Suarez, and Jen Psau provided support.

One of the activities in which we engaged was small group brainstorming to respond to three questions: 1. What are the best strategies for implementing inquiry learning in schools? 2. How do we train K-12 educators/administrators? What materials do we need? 3. How are the Common Core State Standards changing the need/intent to implement inquiry learning?

For me, the responses to the first question were the most relevant to the topics we discuss here on the Culture of Collaboration blog. Those in the room seemed to agree that working within a coteaching structure provided the best support for inquiry learning. This structure allows educators to model the process with and for each other as well as for students. All educators involved must have a shared inquiry learning vocabulary that can best be taught, learned, and reinforced in coteaching situations. Educators must also share a value for the time that inquiry learning takes. Educators and students must have permission to experiment, fail or succeed, and try again with new evidence or in new contexts.

Our colleagues, be they librarians, educators serving in other roles, or administrators, must see inquiry in action in order to understand it and experience the value of this process. As school librarians, we must demonstrate the need for inquiry learning as a lifelong learning process that students can and will transfer to other learning environments and apply in their careers, family, and civic life. We must also help others value the lifeskills and dispositions that students learn and practice as they engage in the deep learning afforded by inquiry.

In Thursday’s post, I will share an example of an effective professional development opportunity facilitated by Dr. Leslie Maniotes earlier this month for the Denton Inquiry 4 Lifelong Learning Initiative. Please stay tuned.

Professional Learning: Where Are the New Models? Part I

09_Advanced_jm_rt_writing_conferences_ssI believe that educators, school librarians in particular, should maintain a membership in the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), read ASCD publications, and be as involved as possible in this organization. The target audience for ASCD’s journal Educational Leadership is “leaders in elementary, middle, and secondary education but it is also for anyone interested in curriculum, instruction, supervision, and leadership in schools” (quoted from the masthead of the journal).

In addition to the fact that school librarians should be leaders in curriculum and instruction in their schools, many principals are ASCD members and read Educational Leadership during the academic year. Since a principal’s understanding of the role of the school librarian in the learning community is essential to our success, school librarians should be able to talk with their principals on topics that ASCD identifies as important for their readership.

Last week when this month’s issue arrived in my mailbox, I was thrilled to see the title “Professional Learning: Reimagined.” I saved it to read until I could immerse myself in the content, which I did over this past weekend. Just to mention the foci of a few articles… The opening feature by Dr. Guskey, from the University of Kentucky, focuses on professional learning designed with backward planning from the desired student learning outcomes and evidence-based practice. Check. Articles on video capture of teaching, coaching, teacher-taught tech camps, and the failure of top-down approaches… Check. Dr. Richard DuFour, Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) expert, provides successful PLCs case studies. Check. While I don’t disagree with any of the articles in this issue, this issue fell short for me in terms of “reimagining” professional learning.

There were two articles in the issue that had the potential to delve deep into the growing understanding of the value of job-embedded professional development—one by Dr. DuFour and one by Emily Dolci Grimm, Trent Kaufman, and Dave Doty. I want to share some of Dr. DuFour’s ideas and build on those for a discussion of the Grimm, Kaufman, and Doty article on Thursday. I hope you have read this issue and will join in and make this a conversation.

In his article “Harnessing the Power of PLCs,” Dr. DuFour shares four case studies where PLCs using different strategies have been effective in supporting teachers to collectively improve student learning outcomes. He bases his article and scholarly work on research-based evidence that effective professional development is:

• Ongoing, with sustained, rather than episodic and fragmented, focus.

• Collective, rather than individualistic.

• Job-embedded, with teachers learning as they engage in their daily work.

• Results-oriented, with activities directly links to higher levels in student learning.

• Most effective in schools and districts that function as professional learning communities (31).

This research in consistent with my own experience as an educator and school librarian. The first four keywords italicized by Dr. DuFour are the very reason PLCs can be effective. However, in the four case studies discussed none of them mentions real-time job-embedded professional development where educators learn as they engage in their daily activities teaching students. While there is a collective focus on student learning outcomes and face-to-face or virtual observations of successful practices in other classrooms with other teachers’ students in the same school or across the district, none of these educators were learning while coteaching during the school day with a peer (one another educator) in the same classroom with their own students, resources, supports, and constraints.

Clearly, the PLC strategies offered in the article were successful for these schools but could they have been even more successful if educators’ professional learning happened in their own classrooms in the company of a coteacher who was equally invested in the students’ learning outcomes? My answer is an enthusiastic “yes!”

In DuFour’s article, Regina Owens, the first principal, at The Virtual School of Springfield ISD, noted: “In a traditional school, you hoped teachers implement the new strategy, but it was difficult to be certain” (35).

But there is a way to be certain in schools with a 21st-century school librarian. When classroom teachers and school librarians coplan for standards-based, data-driven instruction targeted to specific student learning outcomes, administrators can be assured that best practices are being implemented in the classroom and in the library. Two or more educators who coplan, coimplement, and coassess student learning outcomes can develop their instructional proficiency in job-embedded professional development learning with and from each other in real time.

What has been your experience of classroom-library collaboration that has led to improved student learning? How is this low-threat, organic strategy conducive to educator learning?

On Thursday, I will continue my response to this issue of Educational Leadership.

Works Cited

DuFour, Richard. “Harnessing the Power of PLCs.” Educational Leadership 71.8 (2014): 30-35. Print.

Judi Moreillon (librarian) and Rochelle Thompson (5th-grade teacher), cofacilitating writing conferences in Rochelle’s classroom, from the Personal Collection of Judi Moreillon – Used with Permission